Review: 'The Mountain Between Us' Starring Idris Elba & Kate Winslet

The mountain threatening Idris Elba and Kate Winslet in survival drama The Mountain Between Us is chemistry, not Mother Nature. The long-in-the-works adaptation of Charles Martin's novel had its share of casting woes before settling on this gorgeous pair, and for the most part they are perfectly fine in their roles as people trying to survive in the harsh, wintry wilderness. It's when the story inevitably thrusts them together as a romantic couple that they find the cliff face a little tough to scale.

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad in his first English-language feature, The Mountain Between Us is exactly the kind of film a true romantic would want to see. Think of it as Six Days, Seven Nights minus the laughs, sunny tropical climate, and the Anne Heche/Harrison Ford spark. But it has a dog, so there's that. Elba plays Dr. Ben Bass, a neurosurgeon, meaning he's cold, clinical, and analytical. Winslet is Alex Martin, a photojournalist for The Guardian, meaning she's bold, impulsive, and adventurous. With a winter storm brewing they both find flights out of Denver canceled, but he needs to return home for an important surgery, and she has her wedding day to attend. What's the solution? The strangers decide to go in together on a charter flight, but when their pilot (Beau Bridges in a brief cameo) has a stroke and crashes the dubious-looking plane into the side of a mountain, they are forced to work together to survive. And take care of the dead guy's dog.

That Ben and Alex will eventually get together is never really in doubt, but how they get there is both interesting and disappointing. The usual path would be for an hour of back-and-forth fighting, building up sexual tension that will eventually explode forth in the heat of passion. But that's not what we get as the film is largely devoid of conflict, other than the occasional clash because of their conflicting personalities. Ben wants to play it safe, logically reasoning that they are more likely to be found where they crashed. Despite a broken leg, Alex is the one who can't sit still and decides to trek off to find help.

The lack of conflict wouldn't be a big deal if there were more thrill to this survival thriller, but they come few and far between. That leaves you with too much time to consider all of the little details being left out, like what are they feeding the dog? When they're so hungry a piece of candy resembles a filet mignon, you're worried about Spot's tummy.  To be fair, the dog is placed in nearly as much jeopardy as his human companions so you may be more worried about his well-being, anyway. It's not that Ben and Alex don't face their share of peril, it's just not as extensive as it probably should be. An encounter with a mountain lion, a near tumble off the mountain, and a dunk in the icy river are all dangers they face but quickly bounce back from with few consequences. There are little contrivances that pop up, in service of bringing them closer together. As if being stuck in the same living space for weeks isn't close enough. They pretty much have to hook up by default, right?

Considering some of the previous stars attached to the film I fear it would have been far worse without Elba and Winslet. While I have issues with their lack of chemistry, it's not entirely their fault. The screenplay keeps any building romance on such a low boil that it never really heats up at all. They're far better just as two people, both clearly independent, who must put their lives in the hands of another. I found that evolution to be far more satisfying than the extended meet-cute.

It's a handsome, well-made effort by Palestinian director Abu-Assad, who has done some terrific work in the past on Paradise Now and Omar. The latter film also deals with love in the time of extreme crisis, so this is the kind of material he seems drawn to. While it's hardly going to win any awards or anything, The Mountain Between Us is the definition of a date night movie, and couples that check it out will leave satisfied.

Rating: 3 out of 5